Lawyers could be named and shamed even before a complaint against them has been decided under new proposals unveiled yesterday by the Legal Ombudsman.

LeO’s plans, which are subject to approval by the Legal Services Board, would allow the watchdog to publish the details of a complaint against a lawyer or legal organisation regardless of whether there has been a decision in the case.  The complaints watchdog has suggested it should have these powers where there is what it has termed “a pattern of complaints” or where it is in the public interest to do so.

Yesterday also saw the start of the ombudsman new policy to publish quarterly tables listing the names of firms and legal entities in respect of which it has issued a decision, what this decision was – whether a remedy was ordered or not – and the area of law concerned.

The first table will cover this coming quarter – April to June 2012 – and will be published in July.

LeO’s board, the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), announced its intention to press on with its plans to publish the names of lawyers in certain circumstances, in line with powers given it has been granted in the Legal Services Act 2007.

LeO visibly flexed its muscles in November last year when it went to the High Court to secure its first fine against a solicitor for failure to cooperate in the complaints process.

Howard Young, who practised in Bolton for CMG Law at the time of the event that gave rise to a complaint, was fined £5,000 plus £15,500 costs for not responding to LeO’s request for information and “apparently ignoring the ombudsman’s process entirely”.

Is naming and shaming firms/individuals  – even before there is a final decision –  acceptable? Do potential clients need to be made aware that the firm or solicitor they are considering engaging are undergoing investigation by the LeO?